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Santa Anita racing to resume March 29; agreement reached
- HORSE RACING,ARCADIA, Calif. – Santa Anita is scheduled to resume racing March 29 and a planned introduction of the elimination of Lasix will begin with next year’s crop of 2-year-olds under a deal hammered out by Santa Anita and the Thoroughbred Owners of California on Saturday, track owner The Stronach Group announced Saturday evening.

Terms of the deal include the immediate reduction of race-day administration of Lasix from a maximum of 10 CCs to 5.

The agreement was forged 48 hours after Belinda Stronach, chairman and president of TSG – which owns Santa Anita – put out an open letter in which she said Lasix would be eliminated at both Santa Anita and another Stronach-owned California track, Golden Gate Fields.

The open letter caught many – ranging from the TOC to trainers to management at other California tracks – off guard, as it came one day after many stakeholders, in a private meeting, had agreed to working toward medication reform.

The ban on Lasix was the primary sticking point that initially prevented TSG and TOC from reaching an agreement. TOC and California Thoroughbred Trainers support race-day Lasix. The impasse threatened to keep Santa Anita closed for an extended period. The compromise allows the track to reopen March 29, one week later than scheduled.

A press release issued Saturday evening by Santa Anita states: “Santa Anita Park, Golden Gate Fields, and the Thoroughbred Owners of California (TOC) today reached an historic agreement to protect the safety and welfare of horses and riders in the state. This collective mandate enacts the most stringent medication policy in North America.”

The agreement includes transparency of veterinary records; limitation on the use of pain or anti-inflammatory medications and treatment, including legal NSAIDS, injections, shockwave therapy; requirement by trainers to apply for permission to work a horse at least 48 hours in advance; out-of-competition testing; increasing the time required for horses to be on site prior to a race; and an investment by TSG in diagnostic equipment to aid in the early detection of pre-existing conditions.

“This is a complete revision of the current medication policy for Thoroughbred racing,” Stronach said in the prepared statement. She added, “TSG is committed to the principles of safe horse racing for both equine and human athletes and to making California racing the best in the world. It is my hope the other tracks in California will follow suit. TSG will begin consultation with our stakeholders in other states to put these standards into effect in those jurisdictions, in the best interest of horse racing.”

TSG and TOC also adopted new guidelines concerning whip use. Under the directive, the whip can only be used as a corrective safety measure. This has already gone into effect during training hours.

The agreement seemingly insures that Santa Anita remains the major track operating in Southern California, with Del Mar and Los Alamitos.

Santa Anita has been closed for racing for nearly two weeks after a rash of equine fatalities and a reexamination of the racing surface. As of Saturday morning, the future of racing at the historic track was entirely uncertain due to the Lasix dispute.

TOC and CTT supports the use of Lasix, a diuretic that helps prevent horses from hemorrhaging. Stronach was against race-day Lasix. Her unilateral declaration Thursday came hours after the filly Princess Lili B became the 22nd equine fatality at Santa Anita since Dec. 26.

California Horse Racing Board regulations state that an immediate ban on a permissible medication such as Lasix cannot go into effect without TOC consent. The TOC was not willing to accept Stronach's scenario as of midday Saturday. However, the compromise for the Lasix ban to begin with next year’s 2-year-olds was forged during negotiations that both parties characterized as cordial.

The agreement stipulates that horses foaled in or after 2018 will race at Santa Anita and Golden Gate with no race-day Lasix. This means all 2-year-old horses starting in 2020 and after will be racing medication free.

Horses foaled prior to 2018 will be allowed to race at Santa Anita and Golden Gate with Lasix, albeit at a maximum of 50 percent of current levels.

Earlier on Saturday, TOC president and chief executive officer Greg Avioli was optimistic a resolution would be reached.

“I think this is going to get resolved one of two ways, between now and the first of the week,” Avioli said. He said at that time a compromise could include a “reasonable phase-out” of Lasix use, which ended up agreed on.

The no-Lasix directive from Stronach, and reluctance by horsemen to support an immediate ban, stalled apparent progress by racing officials to reduce the number of breakdowns.

Santa Anita instituted numerous safety protocols, and as the wet weather has receded the racing surface is now deemed safe. Most agree the use of Lasix is unrelated to the breakdowns, although the timing of the no-Lasix announcement – the afternoon following the 22nd fatal breakdown – suggested that Stronach might believe there is a correlation.

“Everyone has advised her that that’s not the case,” TSG chief operating officer Tim Ritvo said. “Lasix has not contributed to breakdowns. Lasix does not mask pain. I think we all know that. In her mind, she is doing something that’s really good for the horse.”

According to the release, the agreement requires California Horse Racing Board approval. The release states “Because state regulations require a 10-day approval process, Santa Anita is planning to return to racing on March 29.”

Daily Racing Form will provide follow-up coverage Sunday.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman

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